Projected 95% Model in Game Planning – Course 2: Exploiting the Human Behavioral Patterns of Defenders

Jun 12, 2019 | Offense, Game Planning

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager/Co-Founder
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar



Coach Longo is a constant observer of people. He's quick to notice one's posture, one's gait, vocabulary, and even habits. He'll remember things you brought up in conversation several years prior. He's done so with me. It's something you rarely realize he's doing. These same traits make him a successful offensive coordinator because he takes these habits with him on the sideline. While some coaches prefer watching the ball after they make their call, Coach Longo spends his time watching you, the defense react to it. To him, it is how defenders react that's what important. He self-admittedly will continue to stretch corners on vertical routes just to set up throws underneath them. And that is just one particular example. He'll do the same for almost every other position on the field.

In this course, we are going to present our research on how Coach Longo and his staff spend time dissecting the behavior patterns of defensive personnel to design game plans to exploit them. As noted in the previous course, attacking the scheme is already built into the offense. His players already know how to beat certain coverages. It’s how to beat human nature that Coach Longo spends the majority of his game plan. 


A Seasonal Plan to Manipulate the Human Element:

Just as in the previous course of this report, Coach Longo begins this process directly after spring ball which has just concluded in Durham. The staff will work through the entire personnel of upcoming opponents. Once coach will study the secondary structure and diagram the defense while another coach will be asked to break down the returning personnel. He'll watch every game from the previous season in doing so, particularly studying the returners. "We will study these defenders all summer to see what they cover well and what they don't," he said. "That's why we like to go through the entire season because we can pick up on the human tendency. It’s hard to hide these habits during the full length of a season.”

This is something that Coach Longo prides himself on. It’s a cathartic task he gets completely wrapped up in. Similar to a scientist dissecting elements in a Petri dish, Coach Longo combs through each game to examine cracks in behavior patterns of defenders. “You can coach against four teams in a row that all play cover two but all four corners may play it differently," he said. "The playbook says you should be able to beat cover two with a corner route but you may not be able to complete a corner route against a corner that plays it a certain way. The right corner may be coached by the same defensive back coach but because one of them is longer, rangier and faster he is going to play it differently than this guy. We’re going to look at him and say he can’t cover the corner route. We know what their strengths and weaknesses are. We are going to attack the people, not the scheme every week.”

We felt it important to reference the fact that this process has been expedited with the use of Pro Football Focus which is a tool that analyzes every player and every play of every game to deliver player grades, stats, and rankings for the NFL, fantasy football, and NFL Draft. Using this service, Coach Longo is able to simply pull up an individual defender and watch every clip he was involved in the previous season. “I used to tell my GA’s to make cutups of the two corners and the two safeties so every play we can watch them,” he said. “Now we have plays broken down into targets. All I’m doing is studying one particular player. When you watch just one player, you can find a particular mismatch against one of our players.”


Common Principles When Exploiting Personnel:

This information gets translated into some general thought processes on how to manipulate specific defensive personnel. While we detail how this correlates to specific game planning, we wanted to provide a brief overview of how Coach Longo conceptualizes position groups in his game planning. There are some common mantra's he will use below in his early preparation.


“Run at the Speeds; Not at the Bigs”

Among all position groupings, Coach Longo will spend the least amount of time watching the defensive line. But it’s not because they aren’t important. The offensive line coach will do that during game week. He will direct his attention specifically to defensive ends because, in his opinion, they can more quickly affect games. He will work to find out if there is a discrepancy between the two either in size or ability and design his run game around that facet. “We want to run at speed defensive ends,” he said. “We want to generate force at him so he can generate force back at me. We want him to continually take on a tight end on a drive block to wear him down. We’ll take the big heavy defensive end who doesn’t run as well and cut him off on the backside.  We don't want to run power against a big physical kid. If teams play left and right, I'm going at the speed kid and not the size. If it's a team that puts the speed to the weak side, we will run to the weak side.  If it’s a formation defense, we figure out when they are going to put the speed to the trips and we’re going to run it there. You find out what they do because they can’t do everything.”

The same principles apply to interior defenders who can be issues in gap schemes, Coach Longo will make decisions on which kinds of blocks to use against them. "If we have a big heavy 3-technique we will block back on him because even a stalemate is a win," he said. "We'll try to get a double team on that little fast kid and move him out of there."